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The tortuous job of balancing an Mandarin immersion program with district priorities

March 9, 2018

Mandarin immersion programs do many things: they teach Mandarin-speaking students English, English-speaking students Mandarin, serve as magnets to bring middle class families to high-poverty or low-test score schools and in some districts entice families to the district itself to fill empty school seats.

But balancing all those needs and desires is never easy. A case in point – Cambridge, Mass., which requires that schools mirror the socioeconomic makeup of the district as a whole. This has proven complex when higher proportion of families choosing Mandarin immersion are middle and upper-middle class.

The article below talks through some of the issues the program has faced and how difficult balancing the desires of the parents, the school and the district can be.

New tweak filling language immersion class: An urgent result of overlapping complexities

‘Internal transfers,’ school lottery changes, now a one-time seat filling

School Committee member confers with Cambridge Public Schools Chief Operating Officer Jim Maloney at a Jan. 16, 2018, meeting. (Photo: Ceilidh Yurenka)

A third recent tweak was made to elementary school Chinese Immersion program admission rules this week, and though the final School Committee vote was unanimous, it did not come without pushback from some members.

Running optional bilingual programs while balancing the requirements of Cambridge’s school choice lottery is a thorny process, as seen from time to time with the Spanish Amigos School, King Open School’s Portuguese Olá program and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School’s Chinese Immersion Program. The programs have to balance native language levels with socioeconomic parity as managed by a “Controlled Choice” lottery, and in Cambridge, bilingual programs have proven more attractive to upper-income families. In addition, bilingual programs are considered off-limits for “mandatory assignments” – the assigning of schools if a family gets none of three lottery choices, letting the district improve socioeconomic balance in schools.

This combination of dynamics hampers the Chinese immersion program and families who want to attend. Immersion classrooms have waitlists of families wanting to register, but also empty seats, because the waitlists were made up of “paid lunch” families, while the empty seats were reserved for “free or reduced lunch” families to preserve socioeconomic balance resembling the district’s as a whole (about 39 percent free or reduced lunch, though that number has fallen from a more stable 49 percent a decade ago).

Please read more here.


And here’s a previous article about it.

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